Things to Do in Georgia
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park commemorates the life, work, and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement leader. The center—which takes up several blocks in Sweet Auburn, the center of black Atlanta—includes King’s birth home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both King’s father and grandfather served as ministers.
This site served as Savannah’s main cemetery for more than a century following its establishment in 1750. With three subsequent expansions, six acres and over 9,000 graves, burials were cut off in 1853, and the site is now recognized as the oldest intact municipal cemetery in the city.
When the site first opened, it was intended to serve as the burial ground for Christ Church Parish, but after its expansion, the cemetery was opened to all denominations. Since interments were closed prior to the start of the Civil War, no Confederate soldiers were buried here. There are, however, some burials of note; over 700 victims of the 1820 Yellow Fever epidemic are here, along with many victims of Savannah’s dueling era. Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett is buried here, as well as Archibald Bulloch, the first president of Georgia, and James Habersham, an 18th-century acting royal Governor of the Province.
Not surprisingly, Colonial Park Cemetery is home to a number of interesting ghost stories and legends. Paranormal enthusiasts have dubbed it “Paranormal Central,” with one of the most famous ghost stories involving Rene Asche Rondolier, a disfigured orphan who was accused of murdering girls. It is said that he was dragged to the swamp and lynched, and some locals believe he still haunts the cemetery, calling it Rene’s playground. Some local paranormal experts dispute the validity of this ghost story due to a lack of historical records.
Other ghost stories revolve around Savannah’s voodoo culture. Although many have moved out of the city, years ago it was not uncommon for morning visitors to find remnants from a previous night’s ceremony. Soil was used from the graves, and some were actually robbed for use in these rituals. The small park adjacent to the cemetery is the location believed to be the site of Savannah’s dueling grounds.
Grand antebellum homes and historic plazas lined with live oaks are just some of the sights that define Savannah’s Historic District. Considered the heart of the city, the Historic District is not only the centerpiece of a Savannah vacation but also where to find the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, and historic attractions.
Boasting a collection of more than 200 historical artifacts, a 4-D theater experience, and interactive museum exhibits, the World of Coca-Cola® in Atlanta does far more than whet your whistle for a (though it does that, too). Pay homage to the birthplace of the world’s most popular soft drink and learn how a simple beverage became a global sensation and a must-see Atlanta attraction.
It is virtually impossible for Savannah visitors to miss River Street. A broad waterfront promenade lined with shopping, dining, and entertainment venues, River Street is one of the main arteries of the historic city. The street also features a pedestrian-only path, perfect for leisurely strolls with unbeatable Savannah River views.
Dating back to the 18th century, Savannah City Market has long been the commercial and social center of historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. The market is known locally as the “art and soul” of Savannah, a nod to the numerous art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that make it such an important part of Savannah's social fabric.
There was once a time when a sixth of the world’s wealth vacationed on Jekyll Island. Home to the Jekyll Island Club—an exceptionally exclusive, private club that opened in 1888—the island was a warm weather, winter sanctuary for a host of global elite. The club eventually failed, however, as it couldn’t survive the Depression, and today the island is mostly a state park that any traveler can visit. As the smallest of Georgia’s Barrier Islands, Jekyll Island is known for its wildlife and long, white sand beaches. The former “cottages” of millionaire club members comprise the island’s historic district, and four golf courses and a tennis center create a luxurious, oceanfront retreat. Most of Jekyll Island, however, is still wonderfully undeveloped, and the marshes host everything from herons to shorebirds that gracefully cruise through the reeds.
When spending time on Jekyll Island, hire a kayak or paddleboard and explore the pristine shore, stopping to appreciate the tranquil simplicity of the island’s natural surroundings. Spend the night at the oceanfront campground or the Jekyll Island Club Hotel—a historic throwback to the island’s heyday that’s a National Historic Landmark. Escape the stifling summer heat at the 11-acre Summer Waves Park, or head to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to watch as small, endangered turtles scratch their way toward the sea.
The Cathedral of St John the Baptist, a Roman Catholic establishment, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah. The colonial charter of the city originally prohibited Roman Catholics from settling here for fear they would be more loyal to the Spanish authorities, but after the American Revolution, the prohibition on Roman Catholics began to fade.
French Catholic immigrants escaping slave rebellions in Haiti established Savannah’s first parish just before the end of the 18th century. As the number of Catholics continued to increase in Savannah, a second church was dedicated in 1839 and construction on the new Cathedral of St John the Baptist began in 1873. It was completed in 1896 as the spires were added.
Although the cathedral was almost entirely destroyed by a fire in 1898, it was painstakingly rebuilt and rededicated in 1900, when it also received new murals and decorations. Restoration and renovations continued on throughout the reign of several bishops, and among the most significant elements that remain today are the stained glass windows.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a cultural center in downtown Atlanta that seeks to connect the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements. Their purpose is to create a safe space for visitors to explore the fundamental rights of all human beings. The Center's goal is to inspire and empower visitors to join the ongoing dialogue about human rights in their own communities.
The Center has both permanent and temporary exhibitions on different topics relating to civil and human rights. Exhibitions explore the history of the civil rights movement in the US during the 1950s and 1960s. Others focus on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and work in the fight for equal rights. Some exhibitions focus more on present-day issues of human rights and how certain groups are depicted in the media. These exhibits aim to help visitors gain a deeper understanding of human rights and how they affect the lives of every person.
The focal point of the Atlanta skyline is the stately gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol. Lady Freedom, a statue holding a sword and a lantern, stands atop the Capitol building; she has captured the attention of everyone who passes by since 1889. The design of the building draws from the neoclassical style, similar to that of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Inside the building, Victorian and Florentine Renaissance influence is evident in the artistic motifs, while the site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Capitol is the main operating building for Georgia’s state government. It houses the offices of the state governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, and is also the site where the General Assembly gathers. The fourth floor holds an educational museum and a visitors' center. The museum’s collections focus on the history of Georgia and include Native American artifacts and indigenous animals, while portraits of Georgia’s governors line the walls of the building. War banners and flags are displayed on every floor, and one of the most important sights in the Georgia State Capitol is the Hall of Fame, full of memorials to the Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence and other famous Georgia citizens.
More Things to Do in Georgia
The College Football Hall of Fame, also known as the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame,in Atlanta honors the greatest players throughout the history of college football. Their stories and achievements are commemorated here in a one-of-a-kind experience. Visitors can learn about exceptional players and the records they broke by exploring the exhibitions in the Hall of Fame. Permanent, etched-glass representations of each Hall of Fame player are on display. There are also 10 augmented reality displays where visitors can view images and video of players and coaches from their favorite school.
More than 750 helmets representing each college football team are on display, as well as larger than life images from 11 conference champions that are updated each season. Visitors can also see historical game-worn uniforms. Other exhibitions explore the dedication, passion, and sacrifice that goes into being a college football player. There are also sections that focus on the social traditions of college football, the bands, cheerleaders, mascots, and tailgating traditions.
An ambitious “rails-to-trails” project, the Atlanta Beltline transforms the city’s trash-collecting tracks into more than 22 miles of footpaths for bikers, runners and pedestrians. The Beltline, a work in progress, merges the city's parks and green spaces, connects neighborhoods to each other and makes public transit more accessible. The Beltline shows off the very best parts of Atlanta.
The popular Eastside Trail and the Historic Fourth Ward Park are two projects, among many others, that have been completed. A planned streetcar is in the works, an addition that will connect the furthest reaches of the Beltline to more popular, central attractions in Atlanta. Some of the other highlights include 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of parks, more public art and historic preservation efforts.
Forsyth Park, in the middle of historical downtown Savannah, has been a key city landmark since the mid-1800s. Named after the 33rd governor of Georgia, John Forsyth, who donated 20 acres (8 hectares) of land, the park is known for the large Parisian-style fountain located at the north end and the Spanish moss dripping from the oak trees.
The 1996 Summer Olympic Games live on at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, a 22-acre (9-hectare) site that remains one of the city’s top public spaces. Come to splash in—or photograph—the park's main icon, the Fountain of Rings, a computer-controlled fountain with lights and jets of water that display the Olympic logo.
It is hard not to love historic Inman Park. Often called Atlanta’s oldest neighborhood, it was established in 1890 and named after Samuel Inman, a prominent Atlanta businessman in the late 1800s. The picturesque area features several parks with abundant green spaces, wide lawns, stately Victorian-era homes and a plethora of independent boutiques and restaurants. Winding, narrow streets make strolling through the neighborhood an appealing option, and on any given day, residents enjoy tea and lemonade on sweeping front porches flanked by azalea bushes, giving the area a charming, homey feel.
Inman Park is a celebration of historic Atlanta residential architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in addition to Victorian-style mansions, influences range from Romanesque to Queen Anne. The neighborhood is comprised of two parts–the Inman Park historic district and the Inman Park-Moreland Historic District. The area has undergone extensive restoration and renovation in the last decade, and the priceless real estate, combined with the area’s accessibility to the rest of Atlanta, makes Inman Park one of Atlanta’s most coveted neighborhoods.
Made famous by the novel and film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure Cemetery (a former plantation) sits on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River in historic Savannah. The Southern Gothic cemetery comprises 160 acres (65 hectares) of sculptures, mausoleums, marble headstones, and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
Light streams through the stained glass windows of Ebenezer Baptist Church, illuminating the altar where Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized as a child and served as pastor in adulthood. America’s most famous Civil Rights leader grew up in this church, and his legacy lives on inside its walls today, where the church serves as one of the foremost landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and in the United States.
The church was founded in 1886 during the Reconstruction Era in the South after the Civil War, and by the mid-20th century, Martin Luther King, Sr. was leading the congregation from the pulpit on Sundays, setting the stage for his son to take over. MLK, Jr. joined his father as a co-pastor from 1960 until the fateful day of his death in 1968. His funeral, too, was held here. The church has since been restored to look as it did in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and MLK Jr.’s voice greets visitors as they walk through the storied doors, his sermons and speeches playing on a loop on loudspeakers in the Church. Ebenezer Baptist Church still holds sermons today, a testament to the conviction and passion of the congregations that have kept this unique historical landmark alive for well over a century.
Senoia is a small suburb of Atlanta, GA with a population of about 3,300 people and was originally settled in the mid 1800s. This quiet town has gained more attention recently due to its role in the television and film industry. Senoia's significant number of historical buildings in the downtown area give it an interesting atmosphere in which to film. It has been home to several movies over the years includingFried Green Tomatoes, Sweet Home Alabama, andDrop Dead Diva.
More recently the town has become the setting for the AMC television series The Walking Dead. The town doubles for the town of Woodbury, the fictitious setting of the show. Visitors can walk through town and see some of the buildings that have been featured in the series. Tens of thousands of people visit Senoia each year to catch a glimpse of their favorite show, and stores, cafes, and tours have been created cater to them.
Founded based on a need for space for former circus animals, Zoo Atlanta has been a mainstay attraction in Atlanta since 1889. Today, it houses more than 1,500 animals and has the largest number of gorillas and orangutans of any zoo in the United States. Additionally, Zoo Atlanta is one of only four in the U.S. that houses giant pandas.
The 40-acre zoo features seven exhibits, including the popular Ford African Rain Forest and the giant pandas exhibit with its two inhabitants, a male and a female, both on loan from China. Children love the petting zoo, where they can interact with sheep, goats and pigs.
A quintessential field trip experience for Atlanta students, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History allows children the opportunity to explore the planet and its people with both hands-on and hands-off exhibits. These explore everything from modern, foreign world cultures to prehistoric earth, and the Fernbank NatureQuest exhibit is by far the most popular. This interactive experience allows children to explore various ecosystems around the world, while the A Walk Through Time in Georgia exhibit walks through the state's natural history in the context of the development of the planet.
In addition to exhibits, Fernbank also has an impressive IMAX theater with a five-story-high, 72-foot-wide screen, making it the largest movie screen in Atlanta. While most of the films shown are educational, Fernbank does sometimes host special events and programming in the theater.
Designed by architect John Norris, the Mercer Williams House Museum was constructed in the 1860s, then restored a century later by antiques dealer Jim Williams. Considered one of the most beautiful houses in Savannah, it’s also known as a setting for the book and movieMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Though Savannah once served as the southern border of the original American colonies, Chippewa Square is named for an event on the northern border with Canada. In the Battle of Chippewa, in 1814, American forces emerged victorious over the British near Niagara Falls, and when Chippewa Square was built in 1815, it was named for the momentous American victory that took place on the northern border. Today, when visiting the historic Savannah square, you’ll find a statue of James Oglethorpe, the famous founder of Georgia, that faces south with sword drawn in the direction of Spanish Florida. You’ll also find legions of Forrest Gump fans who have come in search of the “the bench,” and while Chippewa Square was the site of filming for the popular 1994 movie, the bench itself was only a prop that has since been moved to a museum. Nevertheless, to admire the backdrop, the bench was placed on the north side of the square, facing out towards Bull Street, and it’s amazingly become the most famous aspect of this 200-year old square. On the streets surrounding Chippewa Square, you’ll also find the Philbrick Eastman House—one of Savannah’s most well known homes—as well as historic Savannah Theater that’s the oldest theater in America.
Though much of the epic Pulitzer Prize–winning novelGone with the Wind takes place in famously grand houses, author Margaret Mitchell penned the tome from a tiny Atlanta apartment. Today her home is the Margaret Mitchell House, which serves as a tribute to where the author lived and worked while writing the novel from 1925 to 1932.
Part of the Savannah Historic District, Madison Square was named after the fourth U.S. president and added in 1837. The square also commemoratesSgt. William Jasper, a Savannah native of the Revolutionary War who was mortally wounded in battle but managed to heroically retrieve his company’s banner. Many local Savannah natives refer to this as Jasper Square in his honor.
In the center of Madison Square sits the William Jasper Monument, as well as a granite marker that defines the southern limit of the British defenses. Look for two cannons from the Savannah Armory on the southern part of the square, which represent Georgia’s first two highways. These are the starting points of the Ogeechee Road leading to Darien and the Augusta Road to Augusta.
Madison Square leads to other notable sights in the Savannah Historic District. Looking toward the west side of the square, you will find St. John’s Episcopal Church with the Green-Meldrim House just next door. On the northwest side of Madison Square is the Sorrel-Weed House, one of the city’s most imposing mansions. On the southwest corner of Madison Square stands the Masonic Temple, previously a Scottish Rite temple. There is a beautifully restored Greek Revival mansion on the northeast corner, but it remains in private hands. Note the adjacent building that is integrated into it, E. Shafer Books & Maps, one of Savannah’s oldest and best known independent bookstores.
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